Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know my tax dollars will be used wisely?

State law legally limits these funds for emergency communications. An Advisory Committee of local first responders and leaders will provide guidance to the County Council on the highest emergency communication needs in open public meetings before funds are spent.


How much is 1/10th of 1%?

That’s 10¢ for each $100.00 spent on taxable retail purchases (not on food and drugs that are exempt).


Don’t E-911 taxes cover this?

E-911 funds the telephone system that you call for help and the technology that aids knowing where you are so help can find you. It does not support the radio system.


Why do responders use radios?

Radios are the most durable, reliable and effective way for responders to communicate traveling to and at emergency scenes. Radios also reach less populated areas out-of-range to most cell phone service.


Will this add to my local property tax bill?



If approved, when will the sales tax go into effect?

It will begin to be collected April 1, 2019 if a majority of voters approve Proposition 1.


What happens if Proposition 1 fails? Is there a Plan B?

There is no other alternative to accomplish the same goal of moving to a single income source that treats the entire county equitably while streamlining the process for ongoing improvement and expansion of the 911 emergency radio system.


How much does a durable first responder radio cost?

First responder radios must withstand heat, water, and impact beyond the use of an average user. Individual radios of this quality off the shelf can cost approximately $7,500 each. This proposal will allow for bulk purchases greatly reducing the cost.

When a radio fails, firefighters cannot stop fighting a fire or police officers cannot stop chasing a criminal to find a replacement. Durable and reliable models are necessary for first responders to do their job of keeping the public safe.

The number of radios needed is being collected now to best negotiate the cost per radio with the vendor. There are more than 5,000 radios in use today by the sheriff’s department, city police officers and local firefighters. The 911 emergency radio system also covers the county’s Department of Emergency Management.


How much will this new radio system cost?

Estimates are up to $70 million. Talks are underway now to refine those estimates with the vendor picked through a competitive bid process earlier this year.


If voters approve the tax in November, how soon will the new radio system be operational?

First responders are expected to transition to the improved system in 2021.  Staff has been diligently preparing to be ready to start the design phase in December 2018. Design and construction is expected to consume 12 months. After the design, it will be about a year for the system to be deployed and tested before first responders begin to use it in 2021. If approved, the sales tax takes effect April 1, 2019.


How many calls does this system answer?

It answers about 7 million annually with an average of 19,000 radio transmissions daily. As the county’s population continues to grow those numbers are expected to increase.


Who says the system needs to be replaced?

Almost 20 years ago community leaders came together to ensure your call to 911 is heard and brings help. As happens with most things, time has worn down this system making it less dependable and outdated. Aging equipment has led to outages including a failure in January that affected 400,000 people in many communities. It lasted nearly 20 minutes. Compounding this problem is the lack of parts to replace failing components and manufacturers will stop supporting much of the equipment in 2020. In addition, an independent verification of the need for this upgrade was validated by Stantec, a wireless communications consulting company.


Why is a permanent sales tax being proposed?

The Sales Tax is a uniform collection method that is county-wide – much like the 911 system itself.  Everyone uses it, and so everyone pays the same share in operations, maintenance, and expansion.  In addition, the Sales Tax means that anyone doing business in Snohomish County will help support the system, including tourists and other people who also use 911 services.  A reliable source of revenue will allow for maintaining of the system, planning for growth and ensuring the 911 service continue to provide the service our citizens expect when calling 911.


After the emergency radio system is upgraded, what else will the tax be used for?

The planned upgrade to the radio system will “modernize” the existing system in many ways, but there are many places where radio service is still limited and needs to be improved.  In addition, modern building construction requires additional radio service to provide in-building performance where it is lacking today.  Simply put, there are many needed areas for expansion and improvement of emergency communications.

The system that we use today was designed in 2001… much has changed since then, so the system needs to catch up.  In addition to the mission of the 911 emergency radio system, local police and fire agencies can use this income source to improve their emergency communications as well.  Further validating the need for this funding will continue even after the radio system project is completed.


Why 1/10th of 1%… do we need that much?

The state law that allows for the collection of this tax – which is used only for emergency communications purposes – is fixed at this amount.  It is not an option to utilize this existing law for a lesser percentage.  It is important to use this law as the primary method of collection to ensure to the taxpayer that the funds collected will go to their intended purpose.


How can I be sure that the funds will support the 911 system and not something else?

By law, it is limited to emergency communications services so it cannot be re-purposed to some other program.  An advisory committee will be established in (found in the same Ordinance that creates the authority to collect the tax) that will review the county’s emergency communications priorities and make recommendations to the County Council.  The advisory committee is composed of county-wide representation of police, fire, and city leadership.


How much will the tax generate a year?

The exact numbers will fluctuate based on consumer spending but estimates now are 12-14 million dollars.


Didn’t anyone see this coming … why didn’t you save for it?

SERS began its work in 2013 identifying a replacement process.  During the past five years alternate technologies (such as cellular phones) have been evaluated, opportunities for partnership/cost-sharing investigated, and a variety replacement options reviewed.  All of these efforts were completed to ensure that we were moving ahead with the method that provided the best benefit to the public safety agencies and citizens in the county.

SERS was founded with a funding model that worked when the system was initially deployed – as the system was built in phases. A variety of individual payers funded those phases as each came online. The entire county is now on a single system covering most of the populated areas. It isn’t in the best interest of the safety of our citizens’ safety to upgrade bit by bit, geographic area by area.  Upgrading with the old model would mean that portions of the county that now have the ability to communicate in an emergency would then be limited degrading the 911 services citizens expect and count on today.

The change to a sales tax provides a reliable funding source which allows better planning for current and future needs.


Where does the emergency radio network get its funding now?

Each agency – primarily police and fire departments – are assessed a fee each year for the 911 emergency radio system. That fee is determined by a variety of factors including calls for service, population and size of the area served by the agency.  The agencies also have a say in the allowable growth of the SERS budget and what it can be used for via the SERS Governing Board.


Is this the system that broadcasts Amber Alerts and puts those noisy tests on television?

Our network is used primarily by the first responders coming to your aid when you dial 911. It does not broadcast Amber Alerts or test emergency communications through your television. After police and fire crews are dispatched they often used the emergency radio system to coordinate with other responding crews as well as seek additional help or equipment while on scene